Q&A With the Curmudgeon

Carl Seville, the well-informed guru of green addresses the issue of how a remodeling company can get started on the path to fame and fortune on the green superhighway.

August 31, 2008

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Many of you haven't been properly introduced to our resident curmudgeon, Carl Seville, so we've taken the liberty to sit down with the well-informed guru of green this month to address the issue of how a remodeling company can get started on the path to fame and fortune on the green superhighway. Be sure to add Carl's blog and our other Professional Remodeler staff blogs to your RSS feed to stay up on all the latest industry news, including green, association updates, trends and economic activity in a timely fashion that only the Internet can provide.

Professional Remodeler: So, Carl, how does one get started building a green remodeling company?

Green Building Curmudgeon: Training, training, training. Start with NARI and NAHB or your local program if you have one. Look for advanced training at seminars and trade shows such as the National Green Building Conference, ACI (formerly known as Affordable Comfort), the Building Performance Institute and EEBA (Energy and Environmental Building Association). Other training that is very useful for remodeling is Home Performance with Energy Star and HERS rater training. Buy the books, “Green Remodeling” [by David Johnston] “Natural Remodeling for the Not So Green House” [by Carol Renolia] and “Green from the Ground Up” [by David Johnston and Scott Gibbon]. You can also hire an experienced green remodeling consultant to advise you on your first projects — their experience will be invaluable.

PR: How do I figure out how much it will cost to get started?

GBC: Understand what is different from your normal process; define it clearly in your estimates and trade contractor scopes; and identify the cost differences. Realize that there are tradeoffs; money spent on making a house more efficient will allow you to reduce the cost of HVAC systems, as they can be smaller.

Other less tangible benefits include improved indoor air quality, which leads to healthier and happier clients as well as a cleaner house. While many of the methods that achieve this cost more, many homeowners are willing to pay more for a higher-quality product. The challenge is to help them understand the value. It is similar to a car. A Yugo will get you there, but do you want to drive it?

Another issue to address is that it is very likely that some of your standard techniques may not be as high a quality as you should aspire to, and in some cases may barely meet the energy code. Make a commitment to improve your work, step by step, job by job.

Finally, there is a learning curve, and making changes will cost more initially. You will find that those costs will go down and the long-term benefits such as happier clients will reduce warranty, callbacks, minimize complaints about comfort and improve your company's reputation, which will pay off in the long run.

PR: How do I figure out what is really green and what is greenwashing?

GBC: While there is some greenwashing in buildings themselves, this mostly deals with products claiming to be green when that is not the case. There are few objective sources on building materials, but one to look at is BuildingGreen.com. It's kind of a Consumer Reports for green building. They review products and list those that they determine meet their claims for sustainability.

PR: How do I sell green to clients?

GBC: They should be asking you for it by now, but if you need to sell it, look for marketing information from local green building programs, testimonials from green homeowners, statistics on energy savings, etc.

PR: Where is the best place to find sustainable and healthy materials?

GBC: Look for local sustainable building product distributors and trade pubs like this one.

If you have ideas or comments, e-mail the author at michael.morris@reedbusiness.com.

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